“It’s busy, it’s fun, it’s exciting,” says Casey Lucius ‘97 about her current position as Assistant City Manager of Marco Island, Florida. “And I’m constantly learning.”
It’s the latter half of this response that offers the necessary insight into how her journey, however unlikely, has brought her to this moment. She’s quick to point out, again and again as she recounts her story, the extent to which her success comes down to one thing and one thing only: throughout her life, she didn’t just listen to those who inspired her along the way. She didn’t just seize every spare nugget of wisdom she was gifted. Instead, she embodied it–words converted to action–using guidance from mentors not only to find her way forward in her career but to become the person she is.
Even as it began, though, her story almost didn’t happen.
“Growing up, college wasn’t on my radar at all,” she says. “I came from a working-class family where when you turned 18, you got a job.” Her first introduction to Ashland University was in 1994 when she attended a week-long model UN event on campus. “When I got home I surprised my mom with how much I wanted to go to Ashland.”
Despite her excitement, however, the dream was crushed as soon as the discussion turned to tuition costs. Or, it would have been, without a significant, selfless act on the part of her stepfather. “He cashed out a big chunk of his retirement savings–all this money he’d worked really hard for at Timkin–and gave it to me. It was incredible. I couldn’t believe it.”
Inspired to make the most of this opportunity, she poured herself into her education. With a lifelong passion for politics and history, she knew early in her college career that if she wanted to pursue political science–especially on the policy side–all roads toward her goal ran through the Ashbrook Center. When she applied as a freshman, however, she was not accepted.
For some, this early rejection might serve as a deterrent. For Casey, it just made her work harder. It was in this pursuit she met Dr. Peter Schramm, whose mentorship would shape her from their first meeting on.
“I followed Dr. Schramm around like a puppy the first year,” she says. “I wanted to be an Ashbrook Scholar, and he was the key to getting accepted into the program.” She laughs at the memory, at her own audacity. “I think I actually told him once that I wasn’t going to leave him alone until he let me in.”
She was accepted as a sophomore and, prior to earning her bachelor’s in just three years, saw a straight path toward her ideal career.
“When Dr. Schramm asked me what I wanted to do after graduation, I told him I was going to get a job shaping policy at the Pentagon. He kind of laughed at me and said, ‘That’s not what you’re going to do.’ He explained if I managed to get a job in Washington right away, I wouldn’t be doing anything except getting people coffee.”
And then he said something that would make all the difference in her life from that moment forward.
“He said the key to being extraordinary is being willing to do what no one else wants to do,” Casey says. As the rest of her story will attest, she took his advice to heart.
After graduating in 1997, she took a position in the Ohio House of Representatives as a legislative assistant for Amy Solerno before joining the US Navy’s Officer Candidate School and undertaking military intelligence training. After six months she and her fellow classmates were given the opportunity to choose their next duty placement.
“Almost every place on the list was great,” she says. “Hawaii, Spain, Florida–even the Pentagon.” There was one placement, however, that no one wanted–an aircraft carrier floating along the Eastern Atlantic seaboard that would be among the first to respond, at a moment’s notice, to any major conflicts flaring up across the globe.
But with Dr. Schramm’s voice still in her ear, this is exactly what she chose. While her classmates headed off to peaceful, sunny spots across the world, she deployed to the Middle East.
Two years later, however, she was surprised to receive a call from the officer who had taught her intelligence training. “Since you went where no one wanted to go last time, he told me, you get first choice for your next placement.”
This time around, she knew exactly where she wanted to be. While serving in Monterey, California, Casey completed her MA in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School and met her husband, a Navy Colonel. From there, after receiving her MA, she worked at the Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Hawaii as the daily intelligence briefer to the fleet’s Commander.
Once again, Dr. Schramm’s advice would serve her well.
“When I got to Hawaii,” Casey says, “my boss said the Admiral–the Commander of the Pacific Fleet–wanted an intelligence brief every morning at 7 am. Which meant someone needed to work the night shift and make sure everything was ready for him in the morning. Obviously, no one wanted to work the night shift.”
So, for the next three years, Casey worked the night shift.
“It was actually wonderful,” she says. “Every morning I got to present to a four-star Admiral. I got great exposure to the Commander of the Pacific fleet. I had access to what was going on in Asia and around the world, every day.”
Working at night also freed her up to continue her education during the day. “Growing up I would never have thought I could earn a doctorate,” she says, pointing out Ashland’s Dr. William Vaughan was the first one to plant the seed. “I loved his classes. One day he told me he was impressed by what he called my ‘academic curiosity’ and said I should consider getting my doctorate eventually.” Those words gave her the confidence to spend five years completing her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Hawaii.
After leaving the Navy in 2007, she and her husband moved to Vietnam, where she served as the American Ambassador’s Chief of Staff. It was during this time she once again put Dr. Schramm’s imparted ethos into effect.
“When President Bush and his wife came to Hanoi in 2007 for the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), everyone was excited to be on the President’s detail,” she says. “But no one asked to be with the first lady.” Casey subsequently spent three days with Laura Bush, touring the city, going to restaurants and museums, and meeting with representatives from across the host nation.
After three years in Vietnam, Casey and her husband returned to Monterey, where she taught national security at the Naval War College for ten years. During this time she also won a bid to serve on city council and discovered a love for the operations side of her job.
“I really like implementation, the energy of it,” she says. “I love the day-to-day challenge of taking policy and making it happen from behind the scenes.”
In 2017, when she and her husband were at something of a career crossroads, they moved with their son (now 13) to Florida where she was able to work with school and city governments across the state before securing her current position as Assistant City Manager of Marco Island.
“It’s great,” she says. “The private sector equivalent of what I do now would be COO, taking policy and putting it into practice. It’s busy, it’s fun, it’s exciting. I love it.”
It’s hard to overstate the effect Ashland University has had on her life and her lifelong love of learning: her life is what happens when a single bit of wisdom from a professor who cared deeply about her meets, full force, a willingness to follow that advice, wherever in the world it takes you.
“That’s what you get at Ashland, what you won’t find at other schools,” she says. “This personal connection, the willingness to engage with a student and give them whatever it is they need to succeed. It’s what Ashland is all about. And it’s what can make all the difference.”